According to the Kinsey Report, one of the best documented studies on sexuality, over 20 per cent of married couples over 50 have not had sex for the past year. Whether this is because of lack of opportunity or desire is open to speculation. But what is clear is that this isn’t a subject tackled by many Hollywood films. So a big thumb’s up to Vanessa Taylor of Game of Thrones fame, who wrote the script of Hope Springs.
This movie is Meryl Streep’s first outing since her Oscar success in First Lady. And her role as an American housewife is about as far as you can get from her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher. Hope Springs is essentially a romantic comedy for oldies. Kay (Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) are like millions of married couples. Together for 31 years, they are plodding along on the same boring routine out of habit. She, trying to kill him with a daily breakfast of fried egg and bacon. He, barely noticing his wife, except to kiss her dutifully on the cheek and to announce that he will be home at the usual time of 6pm.
So far, so predictable. But Hope Springs does at least attempt to tackle the subject of sexual desire for the over 50s. The film starts with Streep dressing up in a flowing, diaphanous nightdress hoping for a night of passion with her husband. She’s nervous, primping her hair and trying her best to look coquettish. She slinks in to her husband’s bedroom (they’ve slept separately for many years), only to be rejected by Arnold because of his rather lame excuse that he is feeling bloated because he had pork for lunch.
The fact of the matter is that they have not had sex for years. Realising that their marriage is fossilising, Kay takes matter into her own hands by booking a week’s marriage counselling at a small town in called Hope Springs. Arnold is horrified. He has been somnambulant for many years, sleepwalking his way through life and his accountant’s soul is shocked back to consciousness by his wife’s rare moment of truth that she is unhappy in their marriage. We’re not certain whether it’s because she has spent $4,000 on this week of navel gazing or because he fears an end to having his meals cooked and ready for him.
Streep as usual is game for anything. Even trying for a comedy moment by attempting to give Lee Jones a blow job in a movie theatre. But Streep doesn’t seem totally confident in these scenes – or perhaps genuinely feels that she is truthfully portraying a repressed, sexually unconfident woman. Either way, it didn’t work for me.
What did hold my interest in the film was whether these two people should stay together or split up. One of the most poignant scene is where Kay asks Arnold when was the last time he touched her – and not just for photos. Is it better to be alone and lonely than in a loveless relationship? Lee Jones gives an amusing rendition of an emotionally stunted man who steps way outside his comfort zone to try and re-discover the passion in his marriage. There aren’t many dark moments in the film, directed by David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada), steering clear of what happens when love goes out of relationships. Nevertheless, it’s an entertaining, feel-good movie, if erring on the safe side.